House Democrats are set to move forward with legislation to expand the Civil Rights Act — a top legislative priority that faces an uphill battle in the Senate.
The bill, which would expand the 1964 law to ban discrimination based on sex, sexual orientation and gender, is set to get a vote in the House as soon as Thursday.
House Democrats pledged shortly before last year’s midterm election that they would bring up the legislation if they won back the majority. They also gave the legislation a low bill number, H.R. 5, underscoring its importance to the House Democratic agenda.
“LGBT Americans and their families deserve to be protected against all forms of discrimination no matter where they live,” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said on the floor. “This legislation would ban discrimination against LGBT people in housing, employment, education, jury service, credit and financing, and public accommodations.”
The bill is expected to receive broad support from Democrats and centrists. Two Republicans have signed on as co-sponsors — Reps. Brian Fitzpatrick (Pa.) and John Katko (N.Y.) — and with 240 total co-sponsors, it’s all but guaranteed to pass the House this week.
But H.R. 5 has been met with sharp pushback from conservatives including groups like the Heritage Foundation and the Family Research Council, which have slammed the bill.
The Heritage Foundation alleged the measure could “force employers and workers to conform to new sexual norms,” “would force hospitals and insurers to provide and pay for these therapies against any moral or medical objections” and would "lead to the erasure of women.”
The Business Coalition for the Equality Act — which is made up of roughly 200 companies including Facebook, Google, Hilton and JPMorgan Chase amongst others — have announced their support for the measure.
If the bill, which was first introduced in 2015, was signed into law it would be the first national nondiscrimination law for LGBTQ Americans.
But it faces an uphill battle in the Republican-controlled Senate, where supporters would face long odds of convincing Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to bring it up for a vote. Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) told NBC News earlier this year that "if you just had an up-or-down vote, we would have sufficient votes in both houses."
In 2013, the chamber, then controlled by Democrats, passed a narrower bill introduced by Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. Four Republicans still in the Senate voted for the bill at the time: Sens. Susan Collins (Maine), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), Rob Portman (Ohio) and Pat Toomey (Pa.).
Only one, Collins, has backed the Senate’s version of the Equality Act. The bill has 46 co-sponsors, in addition to Merkley, leaving it short of the 60 votes it would need to defeat a filibuster.